Your error message sucks!
We’ve all been on a website and had something go wrong, only to be presented with an error message clearly written by an engineer.
We’ve all been on a website and had something go wrong, only to be presented with an error message clearly written by an engineer. The dreaded “404 Page not found” is the most common and it means absolutely nothing to a consumer. The trend over the past few years has been to write friendlier error messages that not only use plain language, but offer assistance to the user; perhaps a search field or a site map to help the user get back on track.
Most major sites are pretty good about this, Flickr in particular being the shining example of friendly, helpful messages. For example, when Flickr’s server needs upgrades, users are told hours in advance on their Flickr homepage when the server will be down, and for approximately how long. That’s great information and should you happen to miss it, the error message is fun: “Flickr is having a massage.”
As I said, most major companies, especially Web 2.0 companies do this quite well. Imagine my surprise when, upon attempting to log into MySpace, I received this message:
"The function that you are currently trying to use is disabled and will be back shortly. We are making some minor changes to this section so please bear with us until we can get it back online. Please do NOT email me about this. Just wait it out. May 25, 2008 -Tom "
Could that be any more rude? First of all, since when is logging in disabled? Secondly, if it really is disabled, then say that. Emphasizing ‘not’ in capitals can be construed as shouting and “just wait it out” is not only unhelpful (for how long?), it’s treating the user like an impatient child. Sorry, Tom. Your error message sucks.
This post originally appeared on Campbell Ewald’s discontinued “The Next Engine” blog.